So, You Want An AR-12 Shotgun? Best Picks And Buyer’s Guide

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So, You Want An AR-12 Shotgun? Best Picks And Buyer’s Guide

Looking for a mag-fed semi-auto 12-gauge shotgun that’s not an AK?

The AR-12 is a loosely defined family of semi-auto shotguns with designs and features inspired by the AR-15. Why? Because jamming in a new box magazine will always be faster than stuffing shells in your tube.

Not to mention, having the same manual of arms as America’s favorite carbine is pretty darn convenient.

That said, there are a lot of very different AR-12s on the market, so which one should you get? I’ll list the top models to consider purchasing, then go over what’s awesome about AR-12 shotguns and some pitfalls to avoid.

AR-12 Shotgun Picks 

Genesis Arms Gen-12

Specs

Chamber: 3 Inches
Barrel Length: 18.75 Inches
Overall Length: N/A
Weight: N/A
MSRP: $2,889.99
Website: genesisarms.com

Pros

  • Highest quality American-made build
  • Best features, including Hiperfire trigger, adjustable stock and M-LOK rail
  • Lower can be paired with a DPMS .308 AR upper
  • Ships with hard case and one 5-round mag

Cons

  • Most expensive AR-12 by far
  • Proprietary magazines

Probably the closest thing to an actual AR is the Genesis Arms Gen-12. It’s built on a DPMS Gen 1 .308 AR-10 lower, and you can drop a compatible upper onto the gun and have a rifle instead. If you like the arms-room concept, this is your shotgun.  

Instead of DI, the gun uses a recoil-operated system with a reciprocating barrel like the Browning Auto-5. The barrel (the standard model is 18 inches, but 7- and 10-inch models are also available) has external threads, with the same pitch (M22x0.75in) as the Saiga 12, so Saiga external chokes are compatible.  

The lower uses a .308 carbine-length buffer assembly, and the upper, which is side charging, comes with a railed M-LOK forend. I don’t dig the proprietary magazines. On the upside, Genesis Arms has both 5- and 10-round units as well as a +2 extension.  

I’ve found these smoothbores to be rugged and reliable with everything besides light birdshot.  

Typhoon F12 

Typhoon-F12-AR-12

Specs

Chamber: 3 Inches
Barrel Length: 18.5 Inches
Overall Length: 38 Inches
Weight: 8.6 Pounds
MSRP: $999
Website: typhoondefense.com

Pros

  • Adjustable gas block
  • Large, enhanced controls
  • Features a flat trigger, rubber grip and M-LOK on bottom of handguard
  • Uses common MKA 1919-pattern mags
  • Ships with three 5-round mags, flip-up sights and a sling

Cons

  • Fixed stock (collapsible can be purchased separately)
  • Better QC than the cheaper Turkish imports, but some owners still report reliability/durability problems

Typhoon Defense imports guns from Turkey, but does QA/QC stateside. Manufacturer support includes spare parts, magazines and a lifetime warranty.  

The F12 is their gamer shotgun, with a monolithic upper/lower receiver, fixed LOP stock (adjustable stocks can be purchased from Typhoon) and an 1100-style gas system. The standard barrel is 18.5 inches, with a 3-inch chamber and a threaded muzzle for Benelli chokes. The receiver is a flat-top, joined by a split-top handguard with M-LOK slots along the bottom and a skeletonized and flared magwell for faster reloads.  

The upper is side-charging, with ambidextrous controls and a flat blade trigger. Flip-up iron sights are included as well as a bungee sling and three 5-round magazines (2-, 10- and 20-round magazines are also available from Typhoon).  

If you’re aiming at 3-Gun Open, this is an option I’ve found a lot of people start at.

Panzer Arms AR-12 

Panzer-Arms-AR-12

Specs

Chamber: 3 Inches
Barrel Length: 20 Inches
Overall Length: 40.5 Inches
Weight: 6.5 Pounds
MSRP: Retails for around $350
Website: panzerarmsusa.com

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Uses common MKA 19191-pattern mags
  • Ships with flip-up sights, two 5-round mags and a cleaning kit

Cons

  • Monolithic stock/grip assembly means you can’t swap those parts
  • Limited rail space for accessories

The Panzer Arms AR-12 features a monolithic polymer lower and a railed flat-top upper. It also uses incredibly common MKA 1919-pattern magazines.   

What I don’t like is handguard has what appears to be M-LOK slots, but they are just lightening cuts. However, there are Picatinny rail sections in case you want to mount accessories. I’ve found the Panzer does not run as well on light target loads, so bear that in mind.  

The standard barrel length is 20 inches (18.5-inch models are available as well) with a 3-inch chamber. Each AR-12 ships with flip-up plastic sights and two 5-round magazines.  

Rock Island Armory VR80 

Armscor-VR80

Specs

Chamber: 3 Inches
Barrel Length: 20 Inches
Overall Length: 39 Inches
Weight: 7.39 Pounds
MSRP: $699
Website: armscor.com

Pros

  • Good spare parts availability
  • Good compatibility with AR parts/accessories
  • Uses common MKA 1919-pattern mags
  • Includes flip-up sights and M-LOK and Picatinny rails on handguard

Cons

  • Substantial break-in before the gun will run light loads

The VR80 is made in Turkey but imported by Rock Island Armory for sale in the U.S. While a cost-effective import AR-12, I find it’s a slightly smarter buy among the many guns in this class.  

The VR80 has a 20-inch barrel with a 3-inch chamber and is compatible with Beretta chokes. There are no actual AR parts save the buffer tube, but it has AR-style controls. The upper is side-charging and the charging handle can be swapped to either side. The receiver and handguard are fully railed as well and come with flip-up iron sights.  

The handguard has M-LOK and QD slots for mounting accessories and the thumbhole-style pistol grip and stock can be swapped for any AR-15 stock. It ships with a 5-round magazine, but RIA also makes 9- and 19-round stick mags for them that are available separately (as well as any other MKA 1919-pattern mags of course).

After a break-in period, the VR80 is pretty rock solid. Not to mention, I find the ample spare parts that are available pretty reassuring.

Tokarev TAR 12P

Tokarev-TAR-12-AR-12

Specs

Chamber: 3 Inches
Barrel Length: 18.5 Inches
Overall Length: 37.75 Inches
Weight: 7.5 Pounds
MSRP: $319.99
Website: sdsimports.com

Pros

  • Uses common MKA 1919-pattern mags
  • Very affordable
  • Comes with flip-up sights

Cons

  • Monolithic stock/grip assembly means you can’t swap those parts
  • Limited rail space for accessories

If all you want an AR-12 for is blasting pumpkins, there’s no need to go broke doing it. That makes the TAR 12P an excellent option.

As for features, it has a threaded muzzle for Beretta/Mobile chokes (3 are included), a flat-top receiver and some Picatinny rail on the handguard for accessories. It also ships with flip-up iron sights.  

Besides the attractive price point, another draw of the TAR 12 is it’s available with several different finishes. The most basic and affordable black/grey model is shown here, but you can order them in various other colors, camo patterns and paint schemes.

Model Chamber Barrel Length Overall Length Weight MSRP
Genesis Arms Gen-12 3 Inches 18.75 Inches N/A N/A $2,889.99
Typhoon F12  3 Inches 18.5 Inches 38 Inches 8.6 lbs. $999
Panzer Arms AR-12  3 Inches 20 Inches 40.5 Inches 6.5 lbs. ~$350
Rock Island Armory VR80  3 Inches 20 Inches 39 Inches 7.39 lbs. $699
Tokarev TAR 12P 3 Inches 18.5 Inches 37.75 Inches 7.5 lbs. $319.99

Buyer’s Guide

Advantages

Shotguns, even those of the tactical variety, have traditionally utilized tube magazines. While tube mags have certain advantages in their own right, namely allowing for a very sleek overall package, they also have obvious drawbacks. When it comes to fast reloads, the potential for increasing a shotgun’s total capacity and quickly switching one’s ammunition type, box mags are the clear winner. Result? The development of box magazine-fed shotguns.

KS12
A Kalashnikov USA KS-12, an American-made clone of the Russian Saiga-12 AK shotgun.

The most successful of course are those that are based on the Kalashnikov. The Saiga-12 is the original, the VEPR-12 is a beefed-up version of the same, and today Chinese and American clones of these AK shotguns are widely available as an alternative given the importation ban on Russian firearms. AK shotguns have seen enormous success not just on the international commercial market, but on the international military and police market as well.

The AR-12 is an attempt to do the same thing with the AR-15. At least, kind of. While AK shotguns use a traditional Kalashnikov operating system, AR-12 shotguns rarely function the same way as true AR-style rifles. Instead, AR-12s typically only imitate the aesthetics and control layout of ARs to make them more familiar to the American shooter. 

The first shotgun that could really be considered an AR-12 is the Daewoo USAS-12. While it doesn’t look quite as “AR” as some of the newer commercial models, it is a semi-auto 12-gauge that’s fed by box (and drum) magazines. Its lower receiver, controls and grip are also directly based on the AR-15, and it even has carry handle iron sights. While the USAS-12 was successful in the military/police market, its commercial sales were very limited.

daewoo-usas-12
The Daewoo USAS-12. Photo: Wikipedia.

What’s An AR-12 Good For?

Short answer? 3-Gun and blowing up pumpkins.  

You could ostensibly hunt using an AR-12 with a 2- or 3-round magazine…but traditional semi-auto hunting shotguns are lighter and handier in the field, and they work so well that there’s no advantage to using anything else.  

As for home defense or any other more tactical purpose, again, an AR-12 could work fine, but there are reasons why armed professionals are still choosing more traditional tactical shotguns like Benellis to do their jobs.  

Benefits And Drawbacks 

AR-12 shotguns bring two main advantages to the table.  

First, thanks to the detachable magazine, it’s faster to reload and allows for easy switching between ammunition types. Both details are advantageous to 3-Gun shooters and are why AR-12s are popular in Open classes.  

Capacity is less of an advantage than you’d think. While 19- to 21-round magazines and drums exist, 5- and 10-round sticks are more common given the bulk of 12-gauge shells. Most tube mag shotguns have somewhere between a 5+1 and 8+1 capacity, so it’s not that big of a difference.

Second, the ergonomics and manual of arms of an AR-15 have always been among the best of all fighting rifles. If you already have some training or familiarity, less time will be required to learn to run an AR-12 efficiently.  

And now, time for the “but.”  

The magazines have long been the Achilles’ heel of mag-fed shotguns. Rimmed cartridges/shells and box magazines don’t always get along.  

The Saiga and VEPR shotgun mags are generally regarded as the best, but even those sometimes require tuning to get and stay reliable. You may have to do likewise with certain AR-12 mags. 

Second, AR-12 shotguns come in two flavors. Expensive but generally reliable with care, and Turkish imports. The latter are more common.  

This isn’t to say that good firearms cannot be manufactured in Turkey, Stoeger and Canik come to mind, but it is to say cheap imported guns are usually that way for a reason. In the case of Turkish-made AR-12s, that means general QC and reliability can both be hit-or-miss. Some owners report great reliability with a given model while others’ turn out to be lemons.

AR-12s aren’t 50-state legal either, whereas some of the more traditional semi-auto shotguns can be.  

Many don’t have an adjustable length of pull and accessories can be anywhere from common to vaporware. Magazines and spare parts can also be difficult to source depending on the model.

What To Look For In An AR-12

Firstly, if there are any accessories you plan on attaching to your AR-12, you should first ensure that there are compatible options available.

Also, if you’re serious about using the gun for something other than just blasting stuff in the back 40, look for a gun that has factory support and good parts availability.  

The most common magazine pattern is MKA 1919 magazines, so it helps if your gun accepts them.  

Finally, semi-auto shotguns of all kinds have been plagued with issues cycling light target loads since time immemorial, so a model with an adjustable gas system is a big plus.  


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